Cult of Cartoonists
Not satisfied by the religions on offer, Sam Mills decides to create another cult of her own. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman
Are there any living beings worthy of deification? Our priests are paedophiles, our politicians are celebrities, our celebrities are earthworms. I have previously suggested (in a book) that this spiritual vacuum might be filled with the worship of a writer, Will Self. But, for all his colourful wordplay, I’m thinking if it’s based on words alone it may be too drab, too Reformation. Our cult needs the gaudiness of Rome. Where better to look than to a cartoonist?
The cartoonists deserve a cult of their own. One might term this a man-made polytheistic religion, with a number of different deities wielding pen, paint and ink. Martin Rowson, of this parish, will be our god of war, for he compares cartooning to voodoo – doing damage from a distance with a sharp instrument. Gerald Scarfe will serve as god of Politics, and dear old Quintin Blake the god of Love. But above all, foremost in the hierarchy, will be Ralph Steadman. Steadman, who riffed with the deranged demigod Hunter S Thompson, takes to himself the power to strip petty humans to their miserable core; he speaks of his visual satire in visceral terms – describing how his cartoons “unmask a face” and “get down to skin and bone”. And we are living in an era when masks are indeed being torn off – torn from the faces of bankers and politicians. Cartoonists, arguably, produce more powerful satire than journalists – they skewer these bastards with their pencils and lay bare their sinew, their corrupted blood and guts.
So how should our Gods be worshipped? The initiations might include orgiastic rites involving paints (though one would have to put down newspaper, of course, lest the room end up looking like a rainbow). The cult would also need to be regularly purged to keep followers properly devout – from time to time one would need to expel anyone showing a potential for Tory leanings, or possessing HB pencils that are insufficiently sharp.
And how about a grand rite of Summer Solstice, in echo of the Celts? We’re living in a time of austerity; whilst our predecessors hoped for corn, we hope for cashflow. Imagine: a giant HB pencil, tall as a house, thrust into the middle of a village green. Steadman’s cartoons can be twirled into paper-chains, woven by kiddies around the HB pole to form an exquisite totem. This would then be followed by that most barbaric of ancient religious rituals: a sacrifice. But rather than pick on some poor virgin, let’s find a more deserving victim: a politician or banker or placeman of Steadman’s choosing. Dressed in a suit, they can be raised to the heavens by the followers and then, literally, lampooned by a hundred pencils.
Sam Mills is the author of The Quiddity of Will Self and founder of the Will Self Club. Ralph Steadman is a god
This piece is from the September/October 2013 issue of New Humanist. Subscribe